So Your Child Has Executive Function Deficits

What does that mean and how can executive function deficit be treated? Individuals with executive function deficits often have a group of weak skills related to attention, self-regulation, sequencing, problem solving, awareness, organization and often deficits related to processing speed.
Weaknesses with these soft skills affect new learning, academics, effectiveness on the job and relationships.
The behavioral approach to remediation is based on foundation skill improvement with sustained and selective attention, auditory and visual tracking skills, and vigilance to various tasks at faster and faster speeds. Our goal is to make skills more automatic so that they will be used. We often begin targeting subtle attention difficulties. Many times compensation strategies are not used by individuals because they are labor intensive and not automatic. The more automatic skills are the more useful they will be. When skills are automatic, self-checking can emerge.
To ready the brain to receive the optimum amount of information; pre-focusing strategies are learned. Pre-focusing is the structure for telling ourselves what we might hear and how to organize the information. The individual is able to identify distractions and get back on task. The foundation skills in organization are sequencing, patterning and problem solving.
With many individuals we are working towards improving sequencing skills and learning how to prioritize. This is often when parents and school personnel begin to notice changes in our students.
One of the most frequently asked questions about children taking medications and behavioral therapies is, can they do both? The approach to remediate using a behavioral approach can be done in conjunction with a therapeutic pharmaceutical intervention. The physician and therapist should be informed that both approaches are being used. In fact, many studies report this is optimal treatment.

What Does It Take

One of the questions I often receive is: “We are so busy after school with sports or other special interests  Is there any way we can come less often; once a week like in-school therapy?”

To get good outcomes the answer is “no.”  To improve cognitive foundation skills, intensity matters.  Going one time a week for years will not get your child the outcome you desire.  Most parents are looking for their child to perform in the “average” or “better than average” range.  The best model has been an intense model for a short block of time, which is 3 – 9 month, but usually less than one school year.  For skills that will last a lifetime and make overall learning in many subjects easier, it is a short term sacrifice of today’s time for less stress, better skills and more time gained in the future.

The sports analogy is actually a good one; if you or your child shows up occasionally for practice they eventually won’t be on the team any more.  If they show up, but don’t practice intensely, they will be on the bench.  If they are going to play in the game, they need to learn the skills and to practice.  To accelerate beyond others, they need to obtain feedback, have awareness, new techniques and keep practicing at more challenging levels.  Their skills need to be well practiced, automatic and ready to apply in changing situations.

Want your kid to be successful in the game of life?  Give them the foundation skills they need for life.  Teach them to make short term sacrifices and goals for long term achievement.